Jesus Family Tomb

Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino Harper Collins Publishers 2007

You may have seen the extensive, CNN and network news coverage regarding the “Jesus Family Tomb” (“JFT”), in 2007, a Larry King special on point and/or the documentary on the Discovery Channel. It is also the subject of a book. While some view some of the findings as casting doubt on the claims of certain faiths, on examination, most of the data should make little difference to believers. That is, even if Jesus were married and had children, it would have mitigated his other accomplishments. I decided to investigate the data for myself and bought the book. All books, dealing with ancient history, regardless how scholarly the authors, are subject to interpretation, disagreement and errors, unintentional and/or intentional. It comes with the turf. Paraphrasing Napoleon, “History is whatever the writer tells us it is.” So, I approach JFT and all histories with a cautious eye, and I try to weigh the prejudices of the author. JFT, however, introduces a number of fascinating events and facts about which there are no disputes.

To list a few of JFT’s plausibly documented revelations: In 1980, in a borough near Jerusalem, on the road to Bethlehem, a large fully-enclosed tomb (which by itself suggested some connection among the deceased persons) was discovered, and this tomb had an elaborately designed stone door, suggesting considerable importance to the remains therein placed. In this tomb, there were ten “ossuaries”. (An “ossuary” is a container or urn for holding the remains of the deceased. These ossuaries are stone; so, they’re a type of sarcophagus that was used for only about 100 years, and Jesus lived during that time.) Of the ten ossuaries in the tomb; six were labeled and four weren’t. It was not common to “date” tombs, and the concept of B.C. and A.D. did not then exist. The ossuaries contained fragments of bones, relics and clothing. They were taken, by Jewish archeological authorities (the “IAA”) and placed in permanent storage. Of the ten ossuaries found, only nine made it to the IAA’s permanent storage. No one knows what happened to the tenth. (It could have been sold to a black market collector.) The nine remaining ossuaries were never removed from IAA’s storage from 1980 to date; so, no one has tampered with them, under the IAA’s watchful eye. The IAA apparently has a passive to negative interest in matters that deal with Christ – as the New Testament so thoroughly excoriates the Jews as the “killers” of Jesus; so, it’s not a surprise that these ossuaries were basically ignored to death.

Since 1980, more and more archeologists and other scientists have visited and inspected these ossuaries. From 2002 forward, this research has resulted in a consensus among scholars (believers and non-believers) of Aramaic and Hebrew (in which the names were written) that the names on the ossuaries were/are: “Jesus, son of Joseph”, “James, son of Joseph”, two “Mary’s”, one “Joseph”, one “Matthew”, one “Judah, son of Jesus”, one “Mary Magdalene”. (Jesus’s mother was Mary, and he had a sister named Mary (Mark 6:3). He had four brothers (Simon, Judah, Joseph and James, according to Matt. 13:55). Every name, except Mary Magdalene, was a name of person who was related by blood to Jesus. (The only reason to include a non-blood relative, in those days, was because it was a spouse.) The language experts (who deciphered these names) included the usual suspects: e.g., professors from Harvard, Stanford, et al. “A “consensus”, of course, means plurality of opinion not unanimity, but a plurality including a bevy of scholars with the likes of Professor Bovon, Harvard School of Divinity, and, thus, should not be dismissed cavalierly. The ossuaries also contained bone fragments and the residue of clothing; the bones were too old to yield decipherable DNA, at least not with the current technology. (DNA was discovered in 1953 but all of the big breakthroughs in its potential uses, including for forensic purposes, have emerged in the past decade or so. DNA, of course, can’t prove that the bone fragments were Jesus’ but they might have shown who was related by blood to each other. The research on this remains ongoing. So, stay tuned.)

The sheer fact of having such a group of names in one tomb can tell us more than we might suspect. Based on the frequency of use of those names at the time, renowned statisticians with no known axes to grind concluded that statistics suggest the probabilities of such a grouping of ossuaries NOT being Jesus’ family tomb as follows: With only an estimated 80,000 males in Jerusalem at that time, the odds were 1 in 79 to find a “Jesus, son of Joseph”; 1 in 24 to find two Mary’s; 1 in 193 to find a Mary Magdalene with that group; 1 in 365,928 of finding all of the foregoing in the same place, and 1 in 2.5 million when “Joseph” is added to the mix. A “betting man” would have to wager 2.5M to one that this tomb was that of Jesus and his family. Perhaps, the bones in the ossuary for “Jesus, son of Joseph” were not Jesus’ and that his bones ascended with his soul, but there are someone’s bones in that ossuary. (Due to the extreme angst that a “Judah, son of Jesus” would have on Christianity, that ossuary was not considered in the statistical probabilities above-discussed. Jude – as in the book before Revelations in the N.T. – was a short name for Judah.)

Most Christian churches, of course, reject the inscriptions on the ossuaries as “forgeries”, even though the ossuaries have been under lock and key and under the continuous control of the Jewish archeological authorities since their discovery 27 years ago. The forgery-claims arise to avert concerns that the Virgin Mary may not have been a virgin, and that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, and that Jesus may have had a son, and, worst of all, that Jesus’ body may not have ascended. As noted earlier, none of the foregoing would necessarily be negative to Christianity. See fn. 1. (The Gospels are given to divided interpretations; that is, some maintain that Jesus’ body ascended; others argue that some of the texts of the Gospels suggest that only his spirit did so.) Some Christians are less troubled by all of this, as they argue that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus but not when she gave birth to Jesus’ four brothers and two sisters, and that Jesus’ spirit ascended, even if his body didn’t, and they ignore the possibility that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and/or had a child, but, even if he did, it would not diminish his achievements, ascension, etc., any more than having a family diminished those of Mohammed or myriad Hindu saints. See fn. 1.

Increasingly, copies of ancient manuscripts emerge. The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in a cave by shepherd boys in the 1950’s, were embraced as valid by Christian churches. In 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt, documents that have been aged as circa 2nd Century A.D., revealed the Gospels of Thomas and Philip (both apostles of Jesus), and many other texts. A Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) was found in 1886 in Egypt as part of the Akhmin Codex discovery, which included four texts bound together, all on papyrus and seemingly as authentic of the other copies of books that form the basis of the Christian Bible. Roughly one-third of the pages of MM’s Gospel were removed or lost. The History Channel did a long series on this find in 2005 and 2006. While some of these Gospels were tempting to accept, The Catholic Church, which historically takes the lead in such finds, rejected them all, as “apocrypha”, as it long ago rejected the 13 books of the Apocrypha, which lovely books had been accepted once and preceded the Old Testament in every Christian Bible that was published until well into the 1900’s. (In fact, the Lovett Family Bible, as dated 1870 or so, includes the Apocrypha, as did most of my family’s other bibles even into my college years. Periodically, bibles are revised and updated, as needed.) Anyway, the Apostle Philip is believed to have been Mary Magdalene’s brother, also discrediting her belated label of “harlot”. In his Gospel, the apostle Philip wrote about Jesus and Mary Magdalene kissing, even “on the…” -- a word obliterated by some editor that was believed to have been “mouth”. Perhaps it was “cheek”. Whatever, what difference can it make? They were close.

The Jesus Family Tomb, in sum, states many undisputed facts, as above illustrated, and advances some logic that is most persuasive, at least to those with open minds. As Goethe said, “Doubt grows with knowledge.”